Heavy Artillery: Ab Ex-travaganza at the MoMA

When the Cold War ran red hot, the United States government reached for any weapon available against the “Red Menace.” It’s hard to believe today, when federal funding for the arts is so tight, but in the 1950s the powers that be used art to fight the ideological war against Communism. Looking for a way to prove that America truly stood for freedom, the American government hauled out the heavy artillery of Abstract Expressionism, the art movement that made New York City the epicenter of the global art scene. Abstract Expressionist New York, currently at the MoMA, taps into the power of that freedom to remind us of a time when art seriously mattered.

New Yorker art critic Robert Coates first used the term “Abstract Expressionism” in 1946 to describe the art of Hans Hofmann, a teacher and father figure to other artists who would fall under Coates’ new category. The MoMA bought into the movement and its leading artists thanks to the vision of then-director Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Barr believed early on that Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and others belonged in a museum—his museum. More than a half century later, the MoMA shows off their prescience in this exhibition.

It’s staggering to think that everything in this exhibition comes from the MoMA’s collection. Even works as early in the history of Ab Ex as Pollock’s The She-Wolf from 1943 (shown above) grace their walls on a regular basis. Abstract Expressionist New York takes over nearly the entire museum across 25,000 square feet of gallery space. The fourth-floor painting and sculpture galleries contain 100 Abstract Expressionist paintings as well as 60 sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs documenting the lives of the artists and the world they ruled.

Galleries on the second and third floors supplement the main attraction. Ideas Not Theories: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962 concentrates on the very real collaboration and interaction that went on, beyond just partners such as Pollock and Lee Krasner to even “rivals” such as Pollock and de Kooning. Rock Paper Scissors on the second floor playfully proves that Ab Ex spread beyond drip paintings to sculpture, printmaking, etchings, watercolors, lithography, and drawing. This segment of the overall show really demonstrates the MoMA has opened the vaults of their massive collection. This may be the only opportunity in our lifetime to see Abstract Expressionism in every form, just like the artists did back in the heyday of the movement.

We’ve grown so accustomed to accepting Abstract Expressionism as the quintessential art movement of New York, of America, of Modern Art since the 1950s. Everything that came afterwards—Pop, Minimalism, Performance—is a reaction to them in some way. Abstract Expressionist New York calls us to react, too. The force of this all out assault will knock you off your feet. When you regain your balance, you’ll know what it means to have art really matter—to have art fight for freedom not just against the art establishment, but against repression on a global scale.

 [Image: Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956). The She-Wolf. 1943. Oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas. 41 7/8 x 67" (106.4 x 170.2 cm). Purchase. © 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.]

[Many thanks to the MoMA for providing me with the image above and other materials for Abstract Expressionist New York, which runs through April 25, 2011.]

NYTimes exposé reveals how Facebook handled scandals

Delay, deny and deflect were the strategies Facebook has used to navigate scandals it's faced in recent years, according to the New York Times.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The exhaustive report is based on interviews with more than 50 people with ties to the company.
  • It outlines how senior executives misled the public and lawmakers in regards to what it had discovered about privacy breaches and Russian interference in U.S. politics.
  • On Thursday, Facebook cut ties with one of the companies, Definers Public Relations, listed in the report.
Keep reading Show less

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less

Unraveling the mystery behind dogs' floppy ears

Dogs' floppy ears may be part of why they and other domesticated animals love humans so much.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Nearly all domestic animals share several key traits in addition to friendliness to humans, traits such as floppy ears, a spotted coat, a shorter snout, and so on.
  • Researchers have been puzzled as to why these traits keep showing up in disparate species, even when they aren't being bred for those qualities. This is known as "domestication syndrome."
  • Now, researchers are pointing to a group of a cells called neural crest cells as the key to understanding domestication syndrome.
Keep reading Show less